Entertainment :: Movies

Gwyneth Paltrow 4-Film Collection

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Sunday Apr 22, 2012
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Gwyneth Paltrow is the actress a lot of people love to hate. The daughter of Hollywood royalty on both sides, she grew up living, eating and breathing "the Industry." Snark shacks like Gawker love to dis her for her silver-spoon upbringing, her perfect good looks and her seemingly effortless career path.

A lot of this is sour grapes, of course. While it’s doubtful that Paltrow ever had to wait tables to pay the rent, let alone go dumpster diving for food, it’s as silly to hold her upbringing against her as it would be to admire the acting of, say, Ava Gardner more because she was a sharecropper’s daughter. I don’t remember anyone trashing Grace Kelley or Dina Merrill for their ultra-patrician roots.

As "Gwyneth Paltrow 4 Film Collection" demonstrates, she actually does have a range. Under those placidly beautiful features is an intelligent actress.

The collection appears to be mainly a "Greatest Hits" of Paltrow’s work with Miramax, the studio that was headed by the Brothers Weinstein. This is as it should be, since the producers gave her her big break by starring her in "Shakespeare in Love."

That film is included here and is the one with which most people will be acquainted. Since its win for the best-picture Oscar, this historic comedy-romance has been dogged by criticism that "Saving Private Ryan" (also up that year) was the superior film. The Weinsteins’ famously thorough Oscar campaign and the latter film’s bloodiness tipped the scales to the more "genteel" fantasy about the Bard.

Personally, I agree that, yes, the film is overrated and its views of Shakespeare are simplistic in the extreme. But it’s still a hell of a lot of fun, its costumes and sets are jaw-droppingly gorgeous (fitting the time), and it’s ultimately affecting.

Today, it’s the acting that especially stands out. Judi Dench, not surprisingly, steals every scene she’s in; Joseph Fiennes was the thinking gal’s stud-poet; Ben Affleck gave what is probably his best performance; and Geoffrey Rush gave another graduate seminar in film acting.

It was Paltrow, though, who really proved herself, with a wonderfully nuanced performance of a woman constricted by the times, her class, and ultimately by her own intelligence. Whether or not the film deserved Best Picture, criticizing her own Best Actress Oscar was, and is, out of bounds.

Paltrow was paired with Affleck in a drama, "Bounce," also here. How you feel about this film will be influenced by how much you like High Concept romances with a lot of New Age blather mixed in for "heft."

"View From the Top" is a slight film about a girl from the sticks who makes her way in the world as a flight attendant, only to find that love and a career don’t always mix. Retro, slight and with a script that plays as though it was written in two days, this film’s inclusion must have been intended as Exhibit A in what, in Paltrow’s own admission have been poor film choices since "Shakespeare."

Even so, I have to admit that I found it pretty easy to go down. This is one of those guilty pleasures to save for a rainy day, like a Lifetime disease-of-the-week film or "Sex in the City" marathon.

The real gem in this series is "Emma." Writer-director Doug McGrath is a scary-smart Princeton grad who cut his teeth collaborating with Woody Allen, and some of the Woodster’s sophistication is on display here. This thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of the Jane Austen novel takes a few too many liberties with the great writer’s book for my taste, and there is too much "business" to liven up the dialogue. (I wish screenwriters and directors would realize that, in Austen, the cutting, funny, incisive, profound, immaculate dialogue is the action.)

Still, McGrath has a real feel for Austen’s superb sense of irony. And Paltrow manages to elicit sympathy in the only one of Jane Austen’s heroine I disliked. Especially noteworthy are the costumes; fabulous breeches and waistcoats for the men; Empire waist muslin dresses for the women. It’s also worth keeping in mind that, in Georgian England, middle-class people could be hanged just for speaking to a gypsy.

There’s a serious lack of extras on these DVDs, which is strange, since you’d think that some sort of add-ons would have justified the packaging and re-issues. The reason is probably that Miramax, the company that owns and has released this, is essentially just a library of films, with no production of its own. So why bother to include a long, old trailer describing how fabulous Miramax’s films are?

The most notable add-on is a history of flight attendants that comes with "View from the Top," but it begins and ends there. "Shakespeare" only has a "making of" that’s one of those egregious shorts where all of the film’s principals talk about how wonderful the project is.

There’s also an audio commentary of "Bounce" by the director and producer, which proves the point that some films just don’t need a commentary.

The real crime is the lack of any ancillary material for two of the films. When your behind-the-scenes talent is Jane Austen and your star is William Shakespeare, you’ve got a lot going on.

Anyway, see "Shakespeare in Love" just to hear Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I tell a man about his fiancĂ©e, "That cherry’s been plucked."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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